In infants, the phenomenon we colloquially refer to as “spitting up” is actually often due to baby reflux. Just like in adult acid reflux, baby reflux occurs when the stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus, sometimes resulting in regurgitation. This occurs frequently in infants because the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which normally keeps stomach acid and digesting food in place, is not yet mature.
Add to this the fact that babies spend most of their time lying flat and are on a completely liquid diet, and it’s no surprise that reflux is almost unavoidable. The good news is that most babies grow out of infant reflux by their first birthday, and reflux typically is not a major health concern (just a cleaning hassle for you!).
Signs of reflux in babies include the following:
Choking or gagging during feeding
Gas or fussiness during or right after feeding
Regurgitation and re-swallowing
Difficulty feeding or refusing to eat
It is important to note that sometimes baby reflux is more serious, especially if symptoms lead to weight loss or difficulty gaining weight. If this occurs, it is possible that your baby has gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
Diagnosing GERD in infants or determining if there is something more serious going on is a task for a medical professional. However, as a general guideline, the Mayo Clinic suggests definitely taking your baby to the doctor in the following situations:
Your baby experiences frequent projectile vomiting
Your baby is refusing to eat and isn’t gaining weight
Your baby has trouble breathing or a chronic cough
Your baby is spitting up green or yellow fluid, blood, or anything that looks like coffee ground
Baby and infant stomach acids aren’t very strong, therefore it’s unlikely that the acid reflux will cause any significant damage. But, that doesn’t mean that your baby’s health isn’t at risk. GERD in infants can prevent your baby from gaining weight appropriately and can be really upsetting to their little stomach and esophagus.
Acid reflux or GERD in infants is not completely uncommon and typically, children will grow out of it as their digestive system matures. However, if your child displays the above symptoms it’s better to consult your pediatrician to make sure your baby or infant is as healthy as they can be and isn’t in any pain. If you have any concerns or feel that your baby’s symptoms may require further testing, contact your pediatrician right away!